Earlier this week I had the opportunity to speak with an adoptive parent about some of the things the children who come into our home's via foster care and adoption may face. He made a profound comment, one I have been pondering ever since. He said,
"We must meet the child at their level, too many parents expect the child to come to their level before they can work together."
Many of the struggles people with FASD and their parents have is due to the caregiver expecting more than their child can give. We have a standard of behavior that we expect everyone to meet and when someone fails to do so, we become frustrated. Before I learned about FASD and attachment disorders, I never thought about the frustration endured by those unable to meet the unspoken rules of society.
In Joseph's eyes everyone is a friend. He knows that he is not supposed to talk to strangers but that didn't stop him from doing just when we were out grocery shopping. For a long time that used to annoy me, why did he always disobey? We would go over the "rules" before going in to the store, he seemed to understand them but without fail he did exactly what I told him not to! I finally realized "don't talk to stranger's" is too complex a command so I broke it down to, "You may not talk to anyone unless mom speaks to them first." Joseph does best as a follower, when all he had to do was follow my lead, he was fine. I had to meet him at his level of understanding.
When B came to live with us, we parented him just like we parented Tristan. We thought all children can "handle" love, we didn't know love can be scary and painful. B cringed when we put a hand on his shoulder and acted out if we praised him. His therapist told me we need to give love in smaller doses to avoid triggering a reaction. I couldn't thank him for picking up his toys without a rage, so I said to no one in particular, "I am glad I have a boy who picks up his toys," that was still too intense so I backed up even further and said, "Daddy, B picked up his toys today." I said it when he was in the vicinity so he heard me say it but it wasn't directed at him. The poor child was terrified of love. We needed to meet him where he was emotionally even if it was a long way from what we envisioned when we brought him into our home.
Kiana has trust issues which have been multiplied by PANDAS. I look back on all the talks and all the therapeutic parenting we have done and sometimes I am tempted to become frustrated. Why aren't we making more progress, things should be better by now! But I must remember, this is where Kiana is in her healing, I must meet her there and work from that point, not from the place where I think we should be, nor from the place a child who has never endured early childhood trauma would be.
Sometimes as parents, we look at all we have poured into our children and despair when we see how far we have to go but you cannot hurry healing. It will come at it's own time and pace. There are some things that will never be like you envisioned them when you began fostering or adopted a child but creating a child who fits into your family seamlessly, isn't what this is all about. It is about healing, about meeting the child where they are and providing the love, nurture and teaching in ways they can grasp and internalize. It is about a love that may look very different than anything you envisioned when you opened the doors of your heart and home.